Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Great Race by Stacey Hirata

Title: The Great Race
Author: Stacey Hirata & Charles Huang (no website found)
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group
Rating: WORTHY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

This is a pictorial retelling, for young children, of an Asian legend explaining the zodiac. In the west we have a zodiac which is fairy-tale interpretation of certain constellations which lie along the apparent path of the Sun across the sky, and which is comprised of (from the start of the year to the end): Aquarius, Pisces, Ares, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, and Capricorn.

In other parts of the world, other names are ascribed to these apparent patterns of stars. The Chinese zodiac consists of Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig, Rat, and Ox, but their system is much more complex than ever it became in the west, assigning birth years to the signs, and also yin and yang, and the antiquated "elements" such as earth fire, metal, water, and wood, so the whole thing forms a sixty-year cycle. This is how you get a zodiacal sign assigned to your birth year.

This story doesn't go into anywhere near that much detail, and instead retells the legend of how the signs came to be in the order to which all Asians are accustomed. It all began with a foot race declared by the Jade Emperor in celebration of his birthday. All of his favorite animals were to compete, and the first twelve to cross the line would be immortalized in the stars.

Each of the animals uses whatever talents it has peculiar to its species to try and get ahead, and slowly, as we turn the pages, we discover some of the little animals faring better than others.

I'm not Asian, and I certainly don't believe in horoscopes or zodiacal powers, but that's not the point here! The point is whether you're interested in fun fairy tales and legends, and in how different peoples of the world think about their surroundings and their place in nature. This story is beautifully and simply told, and it's elegantly illustrated, offering some educational material as to what lies behind the fictional story. I liked it.

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